Looking to work on matters tied to major projects in industries like construction, energy and technology? Leading set Atkin Chambers is the one for you.
Atkin Chambers pupillage review 2022
“Our USP is quality.” A simple statement delivered without artifice by Atkin Chambers’ senior clerk, Justin Wilson. The set is highly regarded for its work tied to major projects; in Chambers UK Bar Atkin picks up top praise for its expertise in construction, international arbitration (related to construction and engineering matters) and professional negligence (related to the tech and construction sectors). Its work in the IT and energy and natural resources sectors also comes highly recommended. So, if it’s quality you want, Atkin has it in spades. Wilson explains that for “those who don’t understand the law, we work on major projects. I’ve been here for 25 years, and there used to be a heavy emphasis on pure construction and engineering disputes, but in the last 15 to 20 years we’ve branched out to major projects: IT, renewables, oil & gas, and so on.”
“...in the last 15 to 20 years we’ve branched out to major projects: IT, renewables, oil & gas, and so on.”
As the Chambers UK Bar rankings suggest, Atkin is one of the first sets that potential clients look to when they need assistance in the areas noted above. When it comes to premier construction work, many of Atkin’s matters are confidential, but we can tell you that they run the range of issues from delay and disruption, to design, funding and negligence. Also in the set’s ambit are big disputes around the energy and natural resources sector. Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, for example, engages in work with both traditional and alternative energy sources from oil & gas to wind farms. As with the construction side, all matters are confidential, but they pertain to areas like energy waste, design (and its various components), and the development of energy plants/fields and so on. The set’s international arbitration work in the construction and engineering sphere includes high-value confidential disputes involving countries and companies around the world. As with the other practices, the arbitration space covers all issues that could potentially arise from construction and engineering projects.
With such high-value work on the books, Wilson explains that “the drivers of the turnover are the magic and silver circle firms, and we have a close relationship with many clients.” But, says Wilson, "we also work with lots of smaller practices,” because “it’s imperative for junior barristers to work on smaller matters on their own. We take that seriously, so there’s a big spread.” For juniors, “the international opportunities were exciting,” and pre-pandemic (and hopefully post) sources spoke of “opportunities to go to Dubai and China." The international elements of work have been handled virtually of late, but juniors felt confident that “there will still be a lot of opportunities” to travel for cases in future. Other factors that attracted pupils to the set were Atkin’s commercial scope and the chance to interact with "people from a wide range of backgrounds.”
The Pupillage Experience
For those looking to develop a career here, pupils complete a total of three seats. The first two last for three months each, while the final seat spans six months. Pupils have a designated supervisor within each seat and “mainly do historical work at the beginning to remove anxiety and allow us to reference our work against other previous pupils,” a junior explained. They added: “We also get involved with our supervisor’s live work where we can, which enables us to do the first pass or draft of something.” Barrister and member of the pupillage committee Nicholas Maciolek gave us an overview of what future pupils can expect: “During pupillage the intention is to expose pupils to the fullest range of the work carried out in chambers. That will often involve a pupil working alongside their supervisor, but will sometimes also involve work on past cases of particular interest or relevance to our work.” One source told us that they were able to get an “exciting and broad range of work” that covered “domestic litigation and international arbitration.”
“During pupillage the intention is to expose pupils to the fullest range of the work carried out in chambers."
During pupillage, the hours were described as predictable and typically consisted of an 8.30am start and a 6pm finish. We heard that working beyond these hours was not encouraged in the slightest, with one junior recalling QCs pointing out that they'd stayed late and should go home: "I was almost told off for working on a weekend!" Upon gaining tenancy, junior hours are flexible and up to the individual: “My former co-pupil does 9am to 6pm and doesn’t do weekends. I do 9am to 8pm and will work most weekends for half a day or so.” On the whole, the impression we got is that everyone at Atkin works hard, but there is no pressure to fit a certain mould or timetable, as this junior highlighted when they commented: “I've never felt that I had to say yes to an instruction. The clerks are great at managing that.”
We heard that pupils receive ongoing feedback throughout pupillage and also complete a series of written and advocacy exercises. External courses are on the training menu too. As pupillage approaches its end, pupils complete a formal assessment process. Maciolek tells us that this consists of "a four-week panel assignment, for which a number of members contribute a test in the form of some written work. At the end of the panel assignment, the committee provides its own written test paper. It is always a knotty problem.” Our junior source liked the timing of the assessments at Atkin, as "it means you can try things out and make mistakes at the beginning of pupillage." By the time the formal assessment comes around, "you're at the best level you've been all year." They added that the experience during this formal assessment was "a bit like doing exams at school – everyone’s rallying around you and encouraging you.” After pupils complete the assessment, the panel, says Maciolek, “sits down, chats and makes a recommendation to the chambers” on whether to offer tenancy or not to each qualifier. Atkin’s members then vote as a whole on whether to endorse the panel’s recommendation.
"There’s a real ‘it takes a village…’ attitude. People are constantly popping round to talk about what they’re doing and to see if the pupils are interested.”
On the social side, Atkin’s afternoon tea has been on a short hiatus due to the pandemic, but in normal circumstances is a daily event that "everyone is encouraged to attend two to three times a week.” Sources also told us about the monthly “chambers lunch [for members, pupils and staff], which was well attended and really nice. We’d get a big table, and everyone finds a seat.” On top of teas and lunches, Atkin hosts “drinks on a Friday. There are lots of anecdotes and merriment,” a source reminisced happily. This interviewee reflected on stints of remote working during the lockdowns and found it "easier to ask for help when you’re in chambers, as you can see someone making a cup of tea and have a quick chat. From a junior end, you want to be in chambers to see and learn.” The experience of being in chambers was deemed a positive one, with this interviewee joking that they expected to “feel like a Victorian child as a pupil at the Bar – seen and not heard – but Atkin is friendly! There’s a real ‘it takes a village…’ attitude. People are constantly popping round to talk about what they’re doing and to see if the pupils are interested.”
The Application Process
If this sounds like your cup of tea, Atkin will now be processing its applications through the Pupillage Gateway. In the past, the set asked for just a CV and a cover letter – aminimalist approach that pupils found “practically attractive.” While the application process may shift in line with the Gateway, what Atkin is looking for in candidates remains very much the same, as Maciolek explains: “We looking at four criteria: One, legal skills. Two, general intellect. Three, potential as an advocate. And, four, commitment to the Commercial Bar.” He adds that while “we don’t expect them to know a lot about construction, tech, or engineering specifically,” it would help “to do some industry research.”
"Jury trial has been abolished in the majority of civil proceedings – should criminal trials follow suit?”
After that there’s “one interview, with two stages,” Maciolek explains. “In the first stage we like to ask about the candidate’s CV.” The aim, says Maciolek, is to “make the candidate feel comfortable, and if they’ve done something interesting at a mini-pupillage – or something else recorded on their CV – we probe that.” Atkin’s interviewers want “to see that they [the candidates] have a basic idea of what being a barrister or a pupil barrister involves.” A junior confided that there's also a question “where you’re asked to argue the conventionally unpopular side.” Maciolek gives us an example of the type of question asked: "Jury trial has been abolished in the majority of civil proceedings – should criminal trials follow suit?” The second round involves a written problem. Maciolek expounds: “It’s a contractual interpretation exercise. There will normally be some low-hanging fruit and some more difficult bits. The best candidates can deal with both.”
Maciolek says that since “all our candidates have stellar CVs,” what sets candidates apart is “an energy. Do you like jousting with difficult questions? Can you marry a good command of legal concepts with the ability to explain things in a way that anyone can understand?”
1 Atkin Building,
- No of silks 20
- No of juniors 33
- No of pupils 2
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application see the Pupillage Gateway
- Please check website for full details and deadlines
- Pupillages (pa) two 12-month pupillages
- Income £72,500
- Tenancies in the last three years 5
Disputes are extremely varied and include transport, power, water/sanitation, shipbuilding and offshore construction, and social infrastructure projects. Wider commercial and professional negligence work is frequently related to such disputes.
Type of work undertaken
Disputes are often commercially and/or politically sensitive and high-profile, and have included landmark UK cases such as disputes relating to The Shard, Wembley Stadium, the Olympic Village, the Channel Tunnel, The British Library, The Rolls Building, Heathrow T5, the M25 and London Underground. International work is equally substantial with major transport infrastructure and energy projects being a common feature, and disputes are frequently cross-border and/or involving parties from several jurisdictions.
In 2020 Atkin Chambers was, for the second time, honoured with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade, the UK’s highest recognition for international business success.
Chambers reimburses all reasonable travel expenses for pupillage interviewees.
Atkin Chambers is committed to respecting and understanding the cultural needs of its diverse and global client base and is committed to equality and diversity in both recruitment and the provision of services.
We recognise the importance of increasing social mobility at the Bar and look at all applications for pupillage and mini-pupillage solely on merit that is to say without regard to considerations such as age, sex, race, colour, ethnic or national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, religion or belief, or age. We welcome applications from graduates of all universities and from all backgrounds and all sections of the community with the ability and determination to succeed as a barrister.
Chambers ensures that fair recruitment training and equality and diversity training is provided for all for members and staff of Chambers. Chambers' parental leave policy, flexible working policy and reasonable adjustments policy aspire to meet best practice and recognise in particular the need for better access for those with disability and the importance of striving to retain women barristers in practice.
Diversity at the Bar
Chambers understands the importance of the legal profession, including the Bar and the Judiciary, reflecting the make-up of society. Chambers welcomes members, pupils and staff of all ages, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual orientations/gender reassignment, and those with disabilities. It is proud that members have a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. Languages spoken include Mandarin, Cantonese, Urdu, French, German and Italian.
Chambers welcomes the opportunity to work with other groups to foster equality and diversity at the Bar. A number of members are founding members of the TECBAR BAME Network and Chambers supports FreeBar, a forum focused on LGBT+ people and their allies working at and for the Bar.
Wellness at the Bar
Atkin Chambers commends the efforts by the Bar Council of England and Wales, the Inns of Court and the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks in its development of the Wellbeing at the Bar portal which provides support and best practice to barristers, clerks and chambers on wellbeing and mental health issues. Atkin Chambers was awarded a Wellbeing at the Bar Certificate of Recognition by the Bar Council for its “innovation and invaluable contribution made to the wellbeing initiative in the profession” in 2021.
For more information on equality and diversity, and corporate social responsibility please see Chambers’ website.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Construction (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)